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Hell On Wheels: Ridgewood Supt. Works To Improve Special Needs Busing

Mikey Schwing of Ridgewood arrives home from school on Wednesday. His thermometer reads the temperature on the bus provided by the district.
Mikey Schwing of Ridgewood arrives home from school on Wednesday. His thermometer reads the temperature on the bus provided by the district. Photo Credit: Maryanne Schwing
The temperature in Mikey's bus on Wednesday, July 19.
The temperature in Mikey's bus on Wednesday, July 19. Photo Credit: Maryanne Schwing
The temperature on Mikey's bus, according to the Kestrel Drop 3 thermometer.
The temperature on Mikey's bus, according to the Kestrel Drop 3 thermometer. Photo Credit: Maryanne Schwing

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — This story is the second in an occasional series following Ridgewood families with special needs children who say they have been experiencing problems with the school district's provided transportation system.

Last week, Daily Voice opened "Hell On Wheels" with a story about Ridgewood mom Maryanne Schwing and her 8-year-old son Mikey , who is mostly nonverbal and suffers from asthma.

Schwing accused the district in emails obtained by Daily Voice of not honoring commitments made as part of a March 2016 agreement, particularly regarding exceedingly warm temperatures in Mikey's buses — some days as high as 90 degrees — and for lack of a person to administer Mikey's medication and monitor the bus temperature.

Since the story ran, the district was able to locate a company that could provide the necessary personnel, according to Superintendent Daniel Fishbein. He said the district is on its way to full compliance of the agreement.

"By way of background, our district transports approximately approximately 150 special needs and 850 regular education students to and from schools within Ridgewood and elsewhere on a daily basis in a safe and timely manner," Fishbein said.

"Many of these students have disabilities that require customized transportation arrangements, which are worked out collaboratively between the families, our child study teams and our transportation department.

"On very rare occasions, there are disagreements over what arrangements are necessary for some of our special needs students, and this was one of those cases."

  • TRAINED PERSONNEL

The March 2016 agreement requires that a trained personnel provided by the district will ride the bus with Mikey to monitor the temperature, detect an asthma attack and administer Mikey's medication, according to Schwing.

Up until this past Monday, when the district located a qualified nurse for Mikey, that part of the contract was unfulfilled. Fishbein recognized that the district was having difficulty implementing that term due to its inability to find a nurse.

"We have kept the family aware of these difficulties at every turn, as well as our efforts to locate a nurse," Fishbein said.

"We even contacted a nursing firm suggested by the family's own attorney, but to no avail."

Schwing, however, said more could have been done by the district.

"The district could have used one of their many substitute nurses who are board approved, hold a nursing license and are on call," she said.

"That is the purpose of having substitute nurses in the district. These registered nurses are on call when a nurse is not available. The district did not offer this. I eventually requested this after the district said they could not find a qualified nurse. A substitute could have been riding the bus with him from the time of our agreement."

Fishbein said a substitute nurse was used whenever there was one was available.

  • BUS TEMPS

Both Schwing and Fishbein said they are not at liberty to release specific terms of the contract, but Schwing said it requires Mikey's bus be kept between 68 and 74 degrees and air-conditioned at all times.

"The agreement explicitly stated that the temperature range requested by the family could not be guaranteed, and that we would only be required to use our 'best efforts' to maintain it there," he said, "which is difficult to do with the bus door opening and closing as we pick up and drop off students."

Fishbein said buses are inspected by the state twice a year on July and January and they also have to go to a certified garage four times a year. If there is an issue, the buses are pulled off the road immediately, he said.

Such was the case last year after a surprise inspection found the vehicle Mikey had been riding on for months was faulty with 10 rejections, according to an email from MVC officials obtained by Daily Voice.

Schwing said the Region recommended medical transport as an option but the district said it was overkill, and the bus would be fine to transport Mikey.

"At that point, the district agreed that the bus could be maintained to 68 - 74 degrees," Schwing said.

"A van was also considered, but because the district, region and bus company would not allow a van to pull the driveway, van would not be provided."

Mikey is in his second week of the extended school year, and Schwing says the bus Mikey has been riding on does not cool properly. She is especially worried because of the heatwave, she said.

When the bus arrived home from his New Milford school on Wednesday, the thermometer on his harness read 82 degrees, the Kestrel read 79.7 degrees and the district thermometer read 77, Schwing said. She also said the district thermometer was wrong because it was in front of the cold vent.

"He was flush again as noted by his red face and ears. I was notified by the nurse that the thermometer read 75 degrees coming into [the school] and left at 78 degrees," she said.

"I allowed him to board the bus because the bus had a nurse to care for him."

Schwing said the bus ran from approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes and still was unable to cool down, and her son looked unwell because of the heat.

She also said she does not feel the district is using its best efforts to keep the ambient temperature between 68 and 74 degrees, as per the agreement.

Fishbein said the district will continue to work on the problem.

"This is a district that honors its commitments, and I am satisfied that, in this case, we have made good faith efforts to meet our responsibilities and will continue to do so," Fishbein said.

"We respect the right of parents to advocate for their children's interests but, when necessary, must speak up ourselves to set the record straight."

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